Mary Poppins once said:
“In ev'ry job that must be done there is an element of fun. You find the fun and SNAP! The job's a game”.
While this is true (it must be true, it was in a musical) there are also plenty of elements that are anything but fun in many of our jobs.
As a designer, something that either makes or breaks a project is the client/designer relationship. Get it right and the task is a ‘spree’ but get it wrong and no amount of sugar will help this medicine go down.
My intention with this article is to share with you my tips for promoting a positive working relationship with your client and vice-versa. This is by no means a cure-all but hopefully you will find it helpful.
Firstly a positive affirmation. As a designer you have valuable knowledge and experience.
The client wants a logo - "It will only take you five minutes, it's easy!".
When someone hires a designer for a task, they are paying for that skilled person’s time. This is the same as in many trades all across the world. The problem that I have found in the past is that people can sometimes have a preconceived notion on how ‘easy’ a job is and will tell you as such. This is not conducive to a good relationships. You don’t invite a plumber into your house and presume to tell them how long a job will take or how easy it is – we as designers are no different.
So remember- don’t undervalue yourself – the knowledge that you have worked so hard to gain is helpful, useful and above all else valuable.
Relationships tip 1: Be enthusiastic and professional.
We all know this and I mean ALL OF US. If you have a job…no..scrap that….If you are a human being then you know that if you encounter an enthusiastic, polite and professional person then, nine times out of ten, you’re going to get a good first impression of them. This is a universal truth and essential to building a good business relationship.
Relationships tip 2: Treat people as individuals.
I have worked for over 150 different clients and none of them were the same. I always try to get to know them if it is at all possible – try and find some common ground. This way they know that you are not a robot and that you care about their projects AND YOU SHOULD CARE! It is no secret that the clients I have the best relationships with are the ones that come back to me again and again for work. That makes me happy, not because it’s more work but because they were happy enough with their experience and were happy to come back.
You've got to know when to hold 'em. Know when to fold 'em. Know when to walk away and know when to run. You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table. There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done.
Relationships tip 3: You gotta know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.
As a designer you need to be flexible, I’m sure this is no surprise to you. Unfortunately, sometimes a client’s request can force you to come to a crossroads. Do I stand my ground and refuse to do what I have been asked to do? Or do I just grit my teeth and make all the text on his website Comic Sans? It is a matter of making a choice that is the right one for you. I would always say, above all else stay professional. Always try and be as flexible as you can be – go above and beyond as it will give you tremendous satisfaction to see a job well done.
That sinking feeling that we have all experienced at one time or another.
Relationships tip 4: What to do when the when the brown substance comes into contact with the rotating blades of an air-conditioner.
So for whatever reason your project has gone wrong. You’ve missed a deadline, broken the client’s e-commerce store and have no idea how to fix it because you are so stressed by the whole situation. The client is furious and wants your head on a plate – with good reason. If this happens just do this one simple trick to fix everything…Talk to them. Explain the situation. I can honestly say that not burying my head in the sand is one of the hardest but most rewarding lessons I have had to learn in my time as a designer. Explain what is going on, why it has happened and how you intend to fix it – be open and honest – we are all human.
Okay, there you go. Another one of my random lists is out there in the public domain. I hope that you find some of this useful and please feel free to feedback and tell me how right or wrong I am about anything in here.
If you are one of my current or former clients reading this, you were definitely my favourite!
It all started a pretty long time ago... way back in 1994 would you believe! I was 11 years old and decided I wanted to be a graphic designer. I had recently started my new secondary school, not the best I will grant you that, but the place that would start my journey down the creative path. You see, as I came from what was considered a "deprived" area the school had recently received quite a lot of money and had been given Technology college status which meant, a shiny new graphic design studio among other things (I also got to try my hand at engineering, pneumatics and ceramics, but that is a very different blog covering the fact that I am a rubbish girl).
It captured my imagination. I got to create stuff that solved a problem by using creative thinking. I had to give reasons why I used colour, type, shape and form. It opened my eyes to a new big world out there that I had never really thought of being part of, it gave me my career path, graphic designer here I come!
It is safe to say I have always been a bit of a creative type, while my little brother would save up pocket money to but the latest thundercat or wrestling figure I would buy books, pens and paper. My shocking stationary habit exists to this day and my collection of pro-markers is now something I enjoy with my own kids (supervised of course, they are my babies, and not really for children :D) I loved art, photography, museums, books, whatever I could get my hands on really, and my parents indulged me. Music was another big influence, with bands like the Beatles, the Kinks, the Move & the Who being played at home it meant I dodged the bullet of the likes of the Vengaboys and early 90's pop forever frying my brain.
So you weren't academic then?
Actually I was, I was a complete swot. My parents got called aside when I chose subjects like graphics, art, media studies & history instead of more preferred subjects like double science and languages. I was going to be wasted taking creative subjects was the general opinion. The lack of understanding for the creative process and the level of knowledge that came with it was amazing. Why would I want to be a graphic designer when I could be an accountant or a lawyer? (Nothing wrong with those professions, but they probably wouldn't let me wear my Doc Martens to work each day like I do now). I probably use more math in my role as a web designer than I would have done in most other jobs I could have chosen, today alone I have worked on a site in german coding to meet their commercial needs, and had to apply knowledge of history, culture and fashion to put together a design for a client. Sounds like a pretty rounded education to me.
So where next?
From school I went on to my local art college and believe it or not only touched a computer around five times in the whole two years I was there to do any design work. I hand rendered type, used a grant enlarger (do they still exist?) and learnt all the fundamentals that came with being a designer. Learning the hard way made sure that it stuck in your head. If you had spent two days drawing a layout by hand you were gonna be damn sure you had thought long and hard about every alignment point and piece of content. It was hard work but it laid the foundations for skills I use every single day.
Onward & Upward
From there was a university degree in graphic communication, in the very orange Wolverhampton University SAD (it must have turned my brain somehow). We explored typography, film, semiotics, conceptual design, philosophy, so much I can't even begin to cram it in here. Making you see things from all perspectives, to analyse each element with equal importance & to use creative skills to solve a multitude of problems was where I wanted to be. We probably didn't realise it at the time but out lecturers were pretty amazing too, I still refer back to things they said and told me about now over ten years down the line.
Into The Big Wide World
And so off I went. I guess I have been pretty lucky as things go, I have been able to work with huge household names and I have see small businesses grow from the corner of a back bedroom to being a global brand. Being a graphic designer has meant I have interacted with people I would never thought possible and has taken me out of my little corner of the Black Country and out into the world.
I do what I love and I do it every day. I think people struggle with that, the fact that I don't switch off, I look for inspiration everywhere, I encourage my children to absorb the world around them. Because after all, a world without designers would be a pretty boring place.
Books that formed my journey
There aren’t enough hours in the day and that deadline is so close that you can smell it. Clients are breathing down your neck and every email you receive, when spoken by your internal monologue, sounds impatient and sarcastic. So you sit in front of your screen, feel your throat tighten and shoulders draw closer together and just marvel at the colossal task ahead of you. Any passion that you once had for this job is a distant memory and instead of a mind full of creative verve, you have a head full of white concrete.
A lot of us have been there and it is not a great place to be, or need to be. Working in a creative industry or with someone in a creative industry should be an uplifting experience for everyone involved, so I’ve put together a list of things that I do to help keep my passion for my work alive. I run a design and branding agency with my wife so this is something that we need to take seriously as it is so deeply entwined into our family life. This is not a definitive list by any stretch, but all of these things have taken me out of the ‘wake – work – sleep’ cycle and now I feel that my business is benefiting because of it and maybe you can benefit too.
Everyone is different. We all wake up at different rates and drop off at different times. My number one tip is to talk to your colleague/colleagues first thing in the morning. Grab a coffee and a notebook and discuss what is on the anvil for the day ahead. Talk about new and creative ideas that you’ve had, get excited about things that you want to try out that day. If you have no colleagues to meet with then get up, get out and find somewhere to grab a coffee and sit amongst people - gather your thoughts and focus on the day’s tasks ahead. This leads on nicely to my next point…
Change your surroundings
Get out of the office, away from the screen. This could be as easy as having a meeting in a coffee shop or it could be a day trip to a city, it doesn’t really matter - just get out of your normal setting. It is very easy to get caught in the cycle of thinking, especially if you work for yourself, that if I’m not sat in front of my computer then I’m not earning. While technically I suppose this is true, spending shorter periods of more productive time is surely better than eighteen hours of banging your head off the keyboard right? While you’re out and about you have the opportunity to meet people, connect, leave business cards everywhere (get creative), take pictures for inspiration and generate content for your blogs and social media posts, which is planting seeds which will hopefully bear fruit for you.
Following on from my last point, networking is a great use of your time. This is quite a recent thing for me and as a natural introvert I am surprised how much I enjoy it. For the uninitiated, networking is when someone organises a gathering of people with the intention of connecting with them, sharing details and hopefully generating new contacts and business. Now there are probably blogs written exclusively on this and I don’t wish to throw my hat into that arena but give it a try! I find that talking to people about their business really motivates me and gives me potential ideas on how I can grow my own business – so I consider this time well spent.
So give some of these a try, I have found that these three things have really helped push me and my business to the next level and made me take myself more seriously. If you’re lucky enough to do something that you love for a living you have to not allow yourself to lose sight of why you love it and reassure yourself that you aren't just playing at business. The items on the list here all allow you to ‘take a step back’ and reflect on what you’ve done, what you’re doing and what you could potentially do if you keep driving forward.
Here are some places where you can get some information on networking: